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Progress in Darfur Peace Talks

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Good news emerging from Doha where members of the Justice and Equality Movement are poised to sign an agreement with the Sudanese government that could pave the way to peace talks on Darfur. The deal includes an agreement to end attacks on people living in aid camps and an exchange of prisoners. It is designed as a declaration of good intentions and the first step to further talks on Darfur, where the six-year conflict is now taking on the shape of a long-term war which isn't going to go away any time soon.

Of course good intentions are few and far between in Doha, despite today's planned signing. For Jem, the issue of prisoners is crucial. Dozens were rounded up and sentenced to death last year after Jem's assault on Omdurman, across the Nile from the capital Khartoum. They included Abdel Aziz el-Nur Ashr, the half brother of Jem's leader Khalil Ibrahim. The prospect of his release is driving Jem's presence in Doha rather than peace.

At the same time, judges at the International Criminal Court are due any day to issue a warrant for the arrest of Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president. A deal is his olive branch and two fingers to the world. I'm a reasonable guy, it says, ready to talk peace. Arrest him and any deal collapses.

Besides good intentions, any real peace deal with need many other parties on board. First there are the other rebel factions. Then there are the Arab groups who have also suffered during years of war and drought. Most of the fighting for the past few months has been between Arab groups. Any deal without them will leave an important constituency on the sideline. Then there is the cross-border proxy war between Chad and Sudan.

Real peace will have to address all the different but interlinked conflicts that comprise what we know as the Darfur war. Getting Jem - which had previously steered clear of talks and deals - into the same room as the government has to be a step in the right direction. But the example of the failed Darfur Peace Agreement shows that all of Darfur's people have to have a say in forging the peace. There is a lot of work to do yet.

Rob Crilly is currently in Khartoum researching a book on Darfur. This entry has been cross-posted from the Frontline Club